By RUTH MORGAN
For the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum
Let the deaf of Mississippi
uncover their heads and lift up their hearts
in gratitude for the rivers of blessings that have been
flowing from this Institution for all these years.
— Legislature 1854
Mr. John H. Wellborn, House of Representatives from Oktibbeha County, in 1908 sent the newspaper a letter requesting that the newspaper share the following letter he received from J. R. Dobyns, Superintendent of the Mississippi Institute of the Deaf and Dumb. Mr. Wellborn stated that Dr. Erasmus Burt was one of Oktibbeha’s ante-bellum legislators and highly cherished. and felt the readers of the newspaper should be reminded of this action more than fifty years ago. It has now been more than a hundred and fifty years, and I feel it is very much a part of our history and worth repeating.
Dr. Burt first practiced medicine in Calhoun County, AL and moved to Oktibbeha County by 1845 where he was practicing medicine and became a member of the House of Representatives representing Oktibbeha County.
The letter sent to Mr. Wellborn was very informative and kind as letters of that day were.
The letter stated that Col. Burt was a distinguished and influential member of the House of Representatives from Oktibbeha County in 1854.
He was a member of the Committee on Education and Chairman of the Committee on Claims, the first in the list of committees.
On February 7, 1854, he introduced a resolution authorizing the Committee on Education to inquire into the expediency of establishing an Institution for Deaf and Dumb.
That resolution was adopted on February 22 and then Col. Burt made a report for the Committee on Education, authorizing the establishment of such an Institution and reported a bill with a recommendation from the Committee that it do pass. Col.
Burt engineered this bill and passed through both Houses and got the approval of the Governor by May 1.
At the breaking out of the civil war, Col. Burt was Auditor of the State.
He raised a splendid regiment around Jackson, sons of the best and most influential families, and went to Virginia to the seat of action.
They had a terrific fight there, and Col. Burt killed Col. Baker, of Oregon, and a whole regiment of Federals fired on him, and as Col. Burt fell, mortally wounded, his regiment yelled and charged like demons, killed and drove into the Potomac two thousand seven hundred men, and it was called at the time by the Federal papers: “The Ball’s Bluff Disaster.”
Col. Burt was promoted for his bravery, but it came too late, as he died the next day. This was early in the war, and a company was detailed to escort his remains to Jackson. He was beloved by all, for he was a brave soldier and a Christian gentleman.
He left a widow and eight children with no protector, so Mr. Morgan moved them to Alabama near relatives. (How It Was: Four Years Among The Rebels, Mrs. Irby Morgan, Nashville, Tenn.)
Miss Cabaniss, who has been matron in this Institute for t29 years, was an intimate friend of the daughters of Col. Burt. His family not living in or near Jackson, Miss Cabaniss, at her own expense, marked the spot where this distinguished soldier and statesman lay and took care of his grave for the love she bore his daughters.
In writing the history of this Institution the fact that Col. Burt was the founder of this Institution was discovered and since that time this Institution has taken great pleasure in caring for the grave of its founder and friend.
His memory has been honored by the organization of what is known as “The Burt Club” in this Institution.
It is a social organization for female pupils and is composed of such young ladies as attain to a certain high standard in conduct and studies.
The deaf of this State delight to honor the name of Col. Burt. I examined the records of the sessions of the Legislature when he was a member and found that his services to the State were of the highest order.
I would be glad to know of the whereabouts of any of his family that I might open up correspondence with them to show how he is beloved and honored by the pupils and teachers and officers of this school.
Would that every member of the Legislature could manifest the love for the deaf children of the State that influenced this distinguished soldier and legislator.
Thanking you for the opportunity to speak this word of praise for this distinguished Mississippian, I am with very great respect,
— Yours truly, J. R. Dobyns, Superintendent
Dobyns documented a brief history of the Institution in which he wrote that Col. Burt did not and could not have dreamed of the possibilities of this Institution, and he certainly legislated wiser than he knew. During the years 1890 and 1891 the superintendent attempted to gather the statistics as to occupations and annual earnings of those who had gone out from the Institution since its foundation.
These efforts resulted in showing that out of about three hundred who had been in the Institution, returns were received from only sixty-two, aggregating twenty-two different employments, annual earnings of $13,158, and the total for the whole time, $131,257. Referring to this matter, the superintendent says in his report:
With two exceptions, these have all left the Institution since the war.
The buildings, with all the records, were burned at that time, and there is no data from which to gather the facts previous to that period. I have been exceedingly careful to prevent an exaggerated showing in the way of annual incomes.
From these facts I have no hesitancy in stating that the pupils who have left the Institution since 1871 are now producing annually more than the legislature appropriates for the maintenance of the Institution.
What better argument can be presented for the liberal support of this branch of public education? Since that date (1871) about two hundred pupils have gone out into the world. Some of these have died, some have moved and cannot now be located, and some report that “they are making a living;” many of the young ladies have married, and while they are not working for wages, they are filling the noble missions of wives and mothers, and reflecting credit upon their State and alma mater.
This list is being constantly increased, for there is not a year passes but some intelligent boys and girls, who have been receiving the State’s bounty under the fostering care of the Institution, decline to be further assisted, join the busy throng, and take their places as good citizens and begin to bear their share of the burdens of government.